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Home > Biosphere Reserves: Reconciling Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development - Updated: 08-01-2003 2:11 pm
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves (currently, 408 sites in 94 countries) embodies a practical approach to one of the most important questions the world faces today: How can we reconcile conservation of biodiversity and biological resources with their sustainable use?  

Biosphere reserves are both concept and tool, taking shape as part of UNESCO's intergovernmental research programme on Man and the Biosphere(MAB) and representing a key component in its objective, which is to achieve a sustainable balance between the oftconflicting goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting human development while maintaining associated cultural values. Biosphere reserves are sites where this objective is tested, refined, demonstrated and implemented The first biosphere reserves were designated in 1976 and by mid-2002 the network which they constitute comprises 408 reserves in 94 countries.

As the core of the MAB Programme, biosphere reserves are infused with its basic philosophy. The emphasis is on humans as an integral andfundamental part of the biosphere; on integrated approaches to the study, assessment and management of large-scale ecological systems subject to human impact; and on development of a continuum of scientific and educational activity to underpin sustainable resource management.

Nominated by governments, biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial, coastal or marine ecosystems that are internationally recognized under UNESCO's MAB Programme. Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three complementary functions. Its conservation function is to protect those genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes which require protection. Its development function is to foster sustainable economic and human development compatible with the first function. Its logistic function is to facilitate demonstration projects, environmental education and training, research and monitoring in support of the first two functions.

Ideally, each biosphere reserve should contain three elements. First, there must be one or more core areas - securely protected sites for conserving biological diversity, monitoring mini-mally disturbed ecosystems, and undertaking non-destructive research and other low-impact uses. Next is a clearly identified buffer zone, which usually surrounds or adjoins the core areas and is used for co-operative activities compatible with sound ecological practices. Last is a flexible transition area which may contain a variety of agricultural activities, settlements and other uses, and in which localcommu-nities, management agencies, scientists, non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, economic interests and other stakeholders work together to manage and sustainably develop the area's resources.

In a biosphere reserve, the concept of zoning is closely associated with the idea of seeking to develop the protected area as an integral part of the bio-regional landscape. Experience has underscored the importance of avoiding the conversion of reserves into sharply defined islands in a landscape. Rather, the reserve needs to be attuned to what is occurring in its broader setting and seek to modify negative influences.. Each biosphere reserve is a part of a regional landscape and is exposed to many of the same disturbances, pressures and variable management affecting that landscape. If a certain level of influence and control, even though limited, can be achieved over what is happening in the reserve's surroundings, the possibilities are improved for the biosphere reserve to maintain its biodiversity and to take on the function of a site of excellence for exploring and demonstrating approaches to conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale. Crucial here is using biosphere reserves to involve local people in conservation and to fulfil national commitments under international conventions and other agreements.

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